Seniors and Vets Fear Losing Meals on Wheels

Food and companionship are part of meals on wheels and senior food programs.

Marilia Andrade, 67, lives alone at The Village Green, a seniors only gated community in Gilroy. Past the gate, the grass surrounding her apartment is green and well manicured. New looking and well-maintained homes sit nearby in a quiet and cozy neighborhood. In her room, Andrade, wearing a comfortable blue gown and pink and blue knitted cap, is still moving in. It’s been a busy year for her. For three months she received chemotherapy to treat her pancreatic cancer and losing part of her freedom has been a difficult transition.
“I’m very tired and weak right now because of the chemo. It’s just hard. I have new problems, I have a catheter built in, so I’m always very tired and I want to lay down all the time,” Andrade said.
Andrade is one of 1570 seniors and homebound people in Santa Clara County who receive food delivered by Meals on Wheels. She’s been on the program for five weeks and the relief from driving, shopping and cooking has helped to ease some of the strain of daily life for her. Meals on Wheels provides her with nutrition and independence as she fights cancer.
She’s worried about news reports that the program cut be cut in the new federal budget under President Donald J. Trump.
“Sometimes, I have my son in law bring me things, but I don’t want to be asking them all the time. Meals on Wheels is perfect for me and I’m sure there are others who can’t get groceries or cook for themselves,” Andrade said. “It’s a shame they’re even talking about reducing that.”
Beyond party lines, measures to cut spending on seniors have been unpopular in Congress. The Older Americans Act passed in 1965 was part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society reforms and provisions of the OAA mandate federal dollars to fund local senior nutritional programs. However, remarks made by President Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney unleashed apprehension over the future of Meals on Wheels.
“We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good. And Meals on Wheels sounds great ― again, that’s a state decision to fund that particular portion too,” Mulvaney said.
In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, Meals on Wheels in Santa Clara County delivered 678,867 meals. The Congregate Meals program, which along with Meals on Wheels is administered by the County Senior Nutrition Program, served 660,000 in the fiscal year 2015-2016. All included, seniors received approximately 1.3 million meals last year.
Mulvaney’s comment opened the floodgates of speculation that federal funding for programs like Meals on Wheels would be slashed. The “skinny budget” is short on specifics. What is known is that the Department of Health and Human services is slated to see a 16 percent across the board cut.
“The problem with a skinny budget is it is lean on details,” said Meals on Wheels President and CEO Ellie Hollander in a statement found on “Cuts of any kind to these highly successful programs would be a devastating blow to our ability to provide much-needed care for millions of vulnerable seniors in America,”
Early in the afternoon at the Gilroy Senior Center on Hanna St. a table full of old friends chat over spaghetti and meatballs. Politics, sports, history, or the sodium content of the meal, are topics of conversation. At other tables nearby, groups of friends do the same. They’ll see each other tomorrow too, Monday through Friday, every week.
For Ted Carpenatti, 100, every day is his birthday. Carpenatti, a Navy veteran of WWII, celebrated his centennial birthday six months ago, but everyone at the table is eager to share in his longevity.
The majority of men at the table are veterans. They served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. One served in the Iranian army under Mohammad Reza Shah in the 1960s. Such are the stories, the rich variety of the lives of the seniors who gather to share their afternoon meal together. From open to close, they play cards, shoot pool, or enjoy a performance on the piano. It’s a normal representation of the liveliness of the Gilroy Senior Center on Hanna Street.
“We come here all the time. It’s nutritious and the food is good,” said Janet Clifford.
On an average day, Martha Lizarraga-Alejo, who manages the congregate meals program at the Gilroy Senior Center, can expect over 90 diners a day. Alejo works with a nutritionist to plan a menu for six months in advance. On Monday it was spaghetti and meatballs, on Tuesday it was cheese enchiladas. On barbecue ribs day, next Tuesday, they can expect more than 150 diners. In 2016 they served 22,057 meals.
Vince Saso, 69, the president of Senior Advisory Board, spends a lot of time procuring donations for the Gilroy Senior Center. Costco, Panera Bread and Nob Hill make regular donations of pastries and bread.
“For the price, you can’t beat it. But if you can’t afford it, we never turn anyone away,” Saso said.
These men and women are of a strong generation. As much as they value their meals together, they will manage somehow.
“I suppose we’ll just have to go somewhere else. We’d all have to go our separate ways,” Gennero Filice said.
Carole Alcock, 75, is a supercharged senior who is ready for her next adventure. Alcock has adorned her home, wall to wall, with art. She’s considering where to place a print of Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Necklace,” eye level in the kitchen, or to return what she purchased. A trip to Europe is in her near future.
On a trip to Pittsburgh, PA, in September Alcock fell off a curb and broke her wrist, elbow and suffered a head injury which resulted in some memory loss. Because of her injuries, Alcock’s son, Jason, recommended that his mother should sign up for Meals on Wheels.
“I needed it because I had trouble walking. I don’t need the walker anymore, which is good because I was worried about my floors,” Alcock said.
Alcock has many friends. Whether playing bridge, or going out for lunch, she tries to remain active despite her injury. While she spends much of her day watching the news, she would rather stick to playing cards. Still, the current political climate can be inescapable.
“It made me very angry. I’m not as needy as most and I have a lot of friends who have it worse. The Republicans just don’t understand what people need,” Alcock said. “I’d like them to get out in the world and see what people need.”
Alcock enjoys the old standard vegetables, carrots and peas. While she normally eats the fresh sandwich first, she has developed a taste for the breaded fish. The only thing she doesn’t care for is the spinach.
“I wish they would send some cookies,” Alcock said.